Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning
Song Released: 1984
Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015), Pentatonix (2016)
anonymous Mar 27th, 2010 3:45pm report
The first time I heard this song it touched me. Both the melody and the words are really powerful. This is my interpretation.
The logic of the song is there can be many different hallelujah's. Hallelujah can be said in many different circumstances.
Lennard Cohen uses this theme to talk about the hardships of love.
There are many biblical references in the song (King David, Samson and Delilah). I will not go in to them, other have already explained these references in great detail.
There are many versions of this song. Even LC did not always sing the same verses.
I believe the version he performed during his 2008 tour (maybe still does) is the most logical (complete):
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
David loves music, but his love does not. He does not understand this (is baffled) and tries to explain (the cords are matched by the actual song), thus composing the Hallelujah.
I believe this is about unmatched intrests in a relationship.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
The man (David) falls in love, but the relation is not a healty one. It ends up with him submitting and losing his powers. It is a distructive relationship and the Hallelujah is one of dispair.
Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
Maybe the most "black" verse, reflecting on the bitterness of love. When you hear a Hallelujah it's probably not because of joy (seeing the light), but because someone is hurting.
Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
The relationship still exists, but it's hollow. It is like it was when he was alone. He has seen the glorious side of love (the flag on the marble arch), but the love is not lasting and his hart is broken, therefore the Hallelujah is cold and broken.
There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
He remembers when things were good, how their lovemaking made him feel like they were really together, and their Hallelujahs were those of joy and ecstasy.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
The conclusion of the song: Here LC turns from looking back to looking forward.
We try, but often fail in love. We start with the best intentions and though it can go wrong, we need to try. In the end it is worth it. This Hallelujah is optimistic, because it shows that the hardships have not defeated him.
This last verse is not included in most covers, but for me the last verse makes the song complete. It takes it full circle, bringing back the biblical relationship between the subject and a (the) Lord. It also gives the song a hyperbolic ending, which I prefer.
anonymous Dec 21st, 2016 12:30pm report
Knowing a little about LC's life may be helpful out. He was raised in a conservative Jewish family and his father was a Talmudic Scholar. Early in his life he was an admired and prolific poet. His poems, essays, and interviews made it clear he was in a life long struggle to understand God, which included a few years formally studying Buddhism. But, he always said that he was Jewish and had not abandoned his faith, and while he was not strict in his observance, when he passed away this year we learned he had requested a an Orthodox Jewish service.
So, what does that tell us about the song. 1st it helps to understand the subtle difference between the Jewish and Christian meaning of the word Hallelujah. For Christians it is a word of praise for God, a nown..."I Praise You". But in Hebrew, it is a direction, a verb...(You/We) "Give Praise to God". So, what LC is saying in all the stanzas is that he (we) must still give praise to God, even when we are "cold & broken".
His original recorded version only had the four verses that related to God and the struggle of faith. Years later he added the three new verses clearly related to the joy and pain of human love. In the Jewish faith, the joy in sex is one of God's gifts and to LC it had a spiritual dimension.
LC once claimed to have written many more verses for the song/poem? that were never published.
So, in the end it is an uplifting poem about the struggle to see the and understand the gifts of God. And, while LC was a Jew, he saw this as a common struggle for people of faith. And, as a poet, he would not be upset if you found your own meaning in his words. And, that's why he never bothered to explain them.
anonymous Mar 21st, 2017 3:58am report
The reason the lyrics of this song are so beautiful is because of the double and triple meanings in all of the verses. As you read the reviews you start to realize that multiple interpretations are correct. It takes a lot of thought from a brilliant mind to speak to people from all walks of life in the same sentence, covering an entire gamut of beliefs and emotional states, each able to conclude a different meaning. I guess one could call it biblical in its own right.
I think, in the context of the hallelujah being a bitter sweet thing, it is important to mention the music theory behind these repeated hallelujahs;(coupled with the chords) and how they make us feel. We have alterations between an F Major (or happy chord), and A minor chord (a sad chord) occurring with each of the repeated hallelujahs. It all kind of makes sense to me, as a music student, because I knew what was going on; I just never really thought about it until I discovered this interpretation website, and it's kind of cool. What we have going on is a swinging back and forth between the happiness and sadness of the repeated hallelujahs from a music theory standpoint. Super cool to me in context of the rest of the song and the interpretations and thoughts and comments that I've read here.
anonymous Dec 24th, 12:30pm report
Hallelujah song is not a break up song.
- Christmas is not that Merry
anonymous Dec 22nd, 12:58pm report
I was taken aback to hear this song (more than a few times) sung in celebration of Christmas! A song so sad, about the cold and lonely feeling that persist after a breakup while beautiful is not making Christmas merry for me.
anonymous Dec 13th, 12:42am report
The song is about brokenness.
anonymous Nov 14th, 11:06pm report
I think this is about David playing the harp for King Saul and then after he is anointed king by Samuel, it is about him and Bathsheba and Sampson and Delilah.
I love this song it is beautiful and peaceful
and yes, there is a God above and he loves you more than you can know. :)
anonymous Nov 14th, 11:02pm report
I think this is about David and Bathsheba and Sampson and Delilah.
I love this song it is beautiful and peaceful
anonymous Oct 25th, 10:18pm report
If there were no words, if many of the powerful vocalizations were "humming" along, the harmonic vibration of the music is powerful enough to send a chill up my spin and bring a tear to my eye.
anonymous Oct 17th, 10:50pm report
To me the song speaks of the Christian who is in close and deeply satisfying communion and fellowship with God, but being human, makes choices that God has warned him about. As a child who test the limits of parental authority, he proves to himself (and learns the hard way) what God is warning against. As David and Samson each made their choices, their spiritual fervor for God, their power in Him, and their intimate knowledge of Him and what is happening under the heavens (on earth) was diminished in the process. Love could not be the beautiful and pure experience they so longed for— it was cold and broken because it could not reflect God’s principles and who He is. Where before they lived and moved and had their being in Christ, (moving in you) through the Holy Spirit (dove), now it was a cold and broken existence, Having learned a hard and bitter lesson, they could still go forward with God... only now their Hallelujah could not come from a place of greater purity, but from a place now tainted with evidence of their human-ness. Hence we all, in one way or another, cry out to God with our broken yet sincere Hallelujah. The melody resonates truth in our deepest heart, even if the meaning of the words might elude us.
anonymous Oct 15th, 10:23pm report
I think this song is about sin and how we of place blame for our own sin elsewhere rather than take responsibilty for it and repent. When he says “she tied you to the chair” its a metaphor placing blame upon Bathsheba for His, King Davids sin. When we place blame and dont take rrsponsiblilty we lose power in our lives. When we take responsibility that power is restored.
And in our weakness and our strength we still praise the Lord. We say Hallelujah!
anonymous Sep 1st, 9:44am report
It inspired a poem of my own, if I may share.
I was writing a love story
When I listened to a lie
That all I’ve known are broken loves
So I let my story die
Attacked I was with unbelief
Did I really know His name?
And with every ugly thing I’ve done
To bring upon me shame
I came to doubt my own esteem
And what I knew of love.
But then God led me to a song
That struck a chord in me
By one of His own chosen people
Who spoke deeply into me
A broken hallelujah
Set my spirit free
I listened to it over and over
Every singer and arrangement
And how people lit up when they sang it
It left me in amazement
Amazing Grace came to me
King David in an old covenant understood
The grace of a forgiving God
Can draw a song out of man
Now I feel I can go on
In my sanctified imagination
And finish my love story
I don’t have to be perfect
Or know love perfectly
Just let the blaze that lights in every word
Draw the broken hallelujah out of me
Copyright August 31, 2017
anonymous Aug 30th, 8:57pm report
Incredible faith that a person can be broken and still praise the Lord. I believe that the Jewish people survive because of the broken hallelujah!
anonymous Aug 23rd, 8:08pm report
I honestly think the most beautiful part of this song isn't found in its interpretation. Instead, we're treated to the words of a poet whose words speak to us, and we find different meanings and interpretations. This piece speaks on literal, religious, sexual, and social levels simultaneously. And while Cohen owns the iconic version, I'd recommend listening to k.d. lang too. Amazing.
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